Six healthy things to do in September

Sports Concussion Should Be Treated Seriously

October 2015


Concussions may be caused by a bump or blow to the head, but even a sharp jerk or snap of the head can cause a concussion. Concussions are extremely common. An estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million Americans suffer a concussion each year while playing a sport, riding a bike or engaging in some other recreational activity.

In most cases, the symptoms of concussions are mild. But even mild concussions should not be taken lightly, says UW Medicine physician Dr. Richard G. Ellenbogen, UW professor and chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery and co-chairman of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee. "Athletes should no longer refer to a concussion as a ‘ding.' A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that needs to be diagnosed appropriately and treated seriously."

Common concussion symptoms

You do not have to be knocked out to have a concussion. In fact, only 1 in 10 athletes who have a concussion lose consciousness.


Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Neck pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Sleep pattern changes
  • Feeling "not like yourself"
  • Dizziness
  • Problems concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Noise sensitivity
  • Personality changes
  • Fatigue

The symptoms and signs can be subtle, and the consequences of an unrecognized concussion can be serious. Therefore, it is important that anyone who suffers a concussion undergo a careful, standardized evaluation by a professional with expertise in concussion treatment before returning to play, says Ellenbogen.

Did you know?

The Zackery Lystedt Law in Washington State requires education of athletes, parents and coaches about concussions, removal from practice or play if an athlete is suspected of having suffered a concussion and return to practice or play only with the written clearance of a licensed healthcare professional knowledgeable about concussions.

The law is named after Zackery Lystedt, a Maple Valley teenager who returned to play after suffering a concussion while still having symptoms. As a result, he suffered a severe traumatic brain injury that could have been avoided. Zachery Lystedt's life was saved at Harborview Medical Center by the neurological surgery team.

"If there's any doubt someone has had a concussion, take them out of play," says Ellenbogen. "Returning an athlete back to play before they fully recover from their concussion is a mistake that can worsen their recovery."

What to do if you suspect a concussion

A careful evaluation is important, first, because the severity of a concussion is often not immediately apparent. Second, after a concussion, the brain is particularly vulnerable to additional damage; another blow to the head can cause a significant delay in recovery or rarely devastating injuries that can lead to lifelong neurological disability and even death.


"By taking the young athlete with a suspected concussion out of play, you can prevent real tragedies," says Dr. Stanley Herring, director of the UW Medicine Sports Health and Safety Institute and co-medical director, with Ellenbogen of the UW Medicine Sports Concussion Program.

"Returning to play is a medical decision — to be made by a licensed healthcare professional trained in the evaluation and management of concussions," Herring emphasizes. "That's not only the right thing to do; it's the law now.

How to safely recover from a concussion

The initial remedy is rest. That includes rest from physical activity and more intense mental activity, such as home- and schoolwork, socializing and even video games, if those activities cause symptoms, says Herring.


The vast majority of people with concussions get better in about 10 to 14 days, says Herring. "But if someone doesn't seem to be getting better, they need to be seen at a clinic that is specifically qualified to manage concussions — that's how seriously we take this."

"If things don't get better the way they're supposed to, don't guess," he says. "Go somewhere where they know concussions and get evaluated."

Seattle area sports concussion program

UW Medicine and Harborview Medical Center, in collaboration with Seattle Children's, have established the UW Medicine Sports Concussion Program (located at Harborview Medical Center and Seattle Children's) to provide children, adolescents and young adult athletes and active youth with evaluation, treatment and medical clearance to return to sports.


The comprehensive program is composed of many different healthcare professionals including those in in rehabilitation medicine, neurological surgery, pediatrics, sports medicine, neuropsychology, athletic training, physical therapy and radiology services.

In addition to concussion management, the program provides education on the prevention and treatment of concussions to athletes, parents, coaches, athletic directors, healthcare providers and many others involved in sports.

Learn more about sports concussions at the UW Medicine website. To schedule an appointment, call 855.520.5151.

Dr. Herring is a team physician for the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners and a consultant to the UW Sports Medicine Program and the Seattle Storm. He serves as a member of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee. Herring was a leader in the efforts to pass the Zackery Lystedt Law in Washington State. He and Dr. Ellenbogen, with the support of the NFL and many other advocates, have successfully lobbied for similar laws  now in place in all 50 states and the District of Columbia."View Herring's full biography.

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